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Russia: Politkovskaya Investigating Chechen Torture At Time Of Death

Portrait of Politkovskaya at the entrance of an apartment building where she was killed in Moscow (ITAR-TASS) MOSCOW, October 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russians today continue to pay their respects to Anna Politkovskaya, the prominent journalist slain in Moscow on October 7.

Her friends, colleagues, and readers on October 8 held her photograph and lit candles in her memory at a meeting in central Moscow. Flowers and candles also lay in front of Politkovskaya's apartment building, where she was shot dead as she stepped out of the elevator.

The killer shot her three times in the chest, then once in the head, in what prosecutors say bears all the marks of a contract-style killing.

'Political Homicide'

Former Soviet President Gorbachev, who owns shares in "Novaya gazeta," the liberal newspaper for which Politkovskaya worked, has called her slaying "a true political homicide, a vendetta."
"I am conducting an investigation about torture today in Kadyrov's prisons. These are people who were abducted by Kadyrovtsy for completely inexplicable reasons and who died. These are bodies absolutely disfigured by torture."

There is indeed little doubt among politicians, human rights campaigners, and journalists that her assassination is linked to her professional activities -- namely her investigative reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

"I have absolutely no doubt that the murder is in some way linked to the Chechen issue," says Oleg Panfilov, the director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. "Who commissioned the murder, who could benefit from Anna Politkovskaya's death? I think these questions will be answered by an independent investigation. I stress, an independent investigation, because over the past 10 or 12 years, not a single murder of a journalist linked to his or her professional activities has been solved."

Russia's Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika has taken the investigation under his personal control. But journalists and rights campaigners have little faith in that investigation.

"Novaya gazeta" has launched its own inquiry, offering a 25 million-ruble ($930,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of Politkovskaya's killer.

Chechnya Claims Another Victim

The daily has described Politkovskaya's slaying as "revenge," either by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed Chechen prime minister, or by those seeking to discredit him.

The 48-year-old Politkovskaya was a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin's campaign in Chechnya -- and of Kadyrov, whose private security force, known as the "Kadyrovsty," is accused by human rights activists of kidnapping and torturing civilians.

Ramzan Kadyrov (ITAR-TASS file photo)

In her books, "A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya," and "A Small Corner of Hell," she describes the rampant human rights abuses in Chechnya. Politkovskaya was about to submit an article containing her latest investigation about torture in Chechnya when she was killed.

In her last interview, with RFE/RL's Russian Service on October 5, Politkovskaya said her report implicated Kadyrov's militia: "Right now I have two photographs on my desk. I am conducting an investigation about torture today in Kadyrov's prisons. These are people who were abducted by Kadyrovsty for completely inexplicable reasons and who died. These are bodies absolutely disfigured by torture."

Politkovskaya was speaking on the occasion of Kadyrov's 30th birthday, which lifted the last legal barrier preventing him from running for president of the war-torn republic.

Kadyrov's Threats Made Good?

She once again lashed out at the Chechen strongman, calling him the "Stalin of our times" and a "coward armed to the teeth."

"Personally, I only have one dream on Kadyrov's birthday," she added. "I dream of him someday sitting in the dock, in a trial that adheres to the strictest legal standards, with all of his crimes listed and investigated."

Politkovskaya's outspoken rhetoric came at a price. In 2004, she fell seriously ill after drinking tea on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia during the school hostage crisis in Beslan, North Ossetia.

Tomas Vrsovsky, the co-director of the Prague Watchdog online magazine, which covers Chechen affairs, says Politkovskaya told him she was being threatened by Kadyrov and his people.

"I talked with Anna informally three weeks ago [in Stockholm] and one of my questions during the informal talk was whether the threats she used to receive were still in force," he said. "She told me, of course, they haven't disappeared at all, she'd just stopped speaking publicly about them. And I asked, where did they come from. And she said, from Chechnya, namely from Mr. Kadyrov and his people."

Kadyrov has been quick to deflect suspicion following her assassination. On October 8, he said he was "saddened and shaken" by her death, and called for a thorough investigation. He went on to caution against "making assumptions with no basis or serious evidence."

International Calls For Justice

Politkovskaya's slaying reinforces Russia's image as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Politkovskaya is the 42nd journalist killed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the 12th in a contract-style killing since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

Politkovskaya's killing has prompted expressions of grief and outrage outside Russia.

The European Union Presidency has described her killing as a "heinous crime," and the White House on October 8 urged the Russian government to bring her killers to justice. The Foreign Office in London has also urged an inquiry.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin described Politkovskaya as a "remarkable woman" and called on the Russian authorities to waste no time in finding her killers.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), called Politkovskaya "one of Russia's most outstanding investigative journalists and political commentators."

Putin, however, who celebrated his birthday on October 7, remains tight-lipped on the killing.

(RFE/RL's Russian and Tajik services contributed to this report.)

Press Under Assault

Press Under Assault


BREAKING THE NEWS: Press freedom is under assault in virtually all of the countries of the former Soviet Union. Independent media confront enormous challenges in providing citizens with the independent information that can help advance democratic reforms. On May 2, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a roundtable briefing that gave an overview of media developments in the CIS and discussed the connections between press freedom and future democratization. The briefing featured Freedom House Director of Studies CHRISTOPHER WALKER, American University Associate Research Professor ROBERT ORTTUNG, and RFE/RL Central Asia analyst DANIEL KIMMAGE.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 90 minutes):
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RFE/RL's Press Freedom Day stories:

Iraq: Covering The Most Dangerous Beat On Earth

Afghanistan: Women In Journalism Battle Restrictions, Threats

Iran: State Maintains Tight Control Over Information

CIS: Press Freedom In Former Soviet Union Under Assault

Central Asia: Bureaucratic Obstacles Hinder Journalists

Central Asia: Governments Wary Of Independent Media

Central Asia: Journalists Still Face Harassment, Threats

THE COMPLETE STORY: To view an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of media-related stories, click here.


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